Which is little consolation back at the station Bennett has now abandoned altogether. “He was helpful in the process,” says Balboni, “but the process is over and we lost.” Balboni also says that the financial package he and others had put together was sound and that he was deeply disappointed at coming so close but failing to take control of the station he’s been a part of since BBI took control. “I can’t begin to describe how deep my feelings went,” Balboni says. “It’s almost like seeing the perfect woman, the person you’ve waited for all your life, walk off into the mist. And you know you’ll never see her again. It’s like the end of Casablanca.”
This show will have a different ending. Channel 5 has once again been sold to a conglomerate with a reputation for stinginess and mediocrity. And once again there are corporate assurances that nothing will change at the station. “We did not pay $450 million for a great broadcasting organization to make it a different broadcasting organization,” said Hearst’s Bennack at the press conference. He shied away from questions about possible budget cuts, but said there were no plans to replace anyone in the station’s management. “The balance between network, syndicated, and local programming at this station is just as it should be,” he said.
He may even mean it. In addition to its newspapers (such as the failing Baltimore News-American and Los Angeles Herald-Examiner), and its magazines (including Cosmopolitan and Popular Mechanics), and its book publishers (like Arbor House and Avon), Hearst owns the following TV outlets: WBAL-TV in Baltimore, WDTN-TV in Dayton, WISN-TV in Milwaukee, WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, and KMBC-TV in Kansas City. And though they’re not the best TV stations around, they’re far from the worst. “You have to understand that we don’t have any good TV stations in Baltimore,” says Phyllis Orrick, media critic for Baltimore’s City Paper, who points out that WJZ-TV, the Westinghouse outlet, is top rated but that WMAR-TV (owned by the Baltimore Sun) “is so pathetic in both its qualitative and quantitative output that a year or so ago CBS switched its affiliation to WBAL.” WBAL-TV has “a fairly good news operation,” according to Orrick.
Barry Garron, TV critic for the Kansas City Times, says we can believe the Hearst executives when they say they’re not planning to make any management changes at Channel 5. “Unfortunately, they’re telling the truth,” he says, noting that Hearst made no changes whatsoever at KMBC-TV when the station was purchased from Metromedia (for $79 million) four years ago. “But here I think they should have,” he says. The Hearst outlet in Kansas City remains third in the city’s news ratings, and even the news director – who became notorious for demoting Christine Craft for allegedly sexist reasons – stayed on. “But the news product is competitive,” Garron says, “and Hearst has added money to the news budget.”
In short, Hearst seems like another Metromedia. And at Channel 5 – where one office pun about the ownership changes goes, “From bad to Hearst” – that may not be so bad.